Comment

Maggie Bennett & Brian McGowan: Hostility towards mentorship is a mistake

The word ‘mentoring’ has no place in new NMC education standards, insists Dame Jill Macleod Clark, who is leading their development. But dropping the term would demoralise mentors who need support, not rebranding, say lecturers Maggie Bennett and Brian McGowan.
Lead opinion mentoring

The word mentoring has no place in new NMC education standards, insists Dame Jill Macleod Clark, who is leading their development. But such a move would demoralise mentors who need support, not rebranding, say lecturers Maggie Bennett and Brian McGowan

Reflect for a moment on how you got to where you are today in terms of your professional development. No matter where you have ended up you didnt do it alone. All the people you worked with had an influence on how you practise today, and you owe them a debt.

We learn from experienced people and those around us that is as true for nurses and midwives as it is for everyone else. The idea of mentorship to oversee the development of the next generation of

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The word ‘mentoring’ has no place in new NMC education standards, insists Dame Jill Macleod Clark, who is leading their development. But such a move would demoralise mentors who need support, not rebranding, say lecturers Maggie Bennett and Brian McGowan

Reflect for a moment on how you got to where you are today in terms of your professional development. No matter where you have ended up you didn’t do it alone. All the people you worked with had an influence on how you practise today, and you owe them a debt.

 


The idea of mentoring the next generation is a sound one. Picture: iStock

We learn from experienced people and those around us – that is as true for nurses and midwives as it is for everyone else. The idea of mentorship to oversee the development of the next generation of practitioners is a sound one. That’s not to say that it hasn’t had its issues.

Mentorship should not be an additional or optional role. We need to move to a place where mentorship is recognised and embedded as an integral component of professional practice from the start. This can be facilitated by introducing it into the undergraduate curriculum so it is an idea that grows with the practitioner.

Professional responsibility

At the RCN education conference in March, Dame Jill Macleod Clark was critical of the current mentorship system and took exception to the word ‘mentoring’ being used in revised standards to support learning and assessment in practice. The current standards have been described as overly prescriptive and bureaucratic. But we would be ill-advised to discount the critical contribution they have made to enabling registered nurses to be aware of their responsibilities and accountability in relation to the assessment of students in practice.

Before the standards, many nurses were unclear about the contribution they could make to assessment, which led to well-documented concerns about mentors ‘failing to fail’ students, with implications for public safety. Importantly, the current standards recognise the need for support and education for those staff who carry out this professional responsibility.

A fundamental review of the current mentorship system is overdue, but changing the terminology does nothing to move us towards ‘expert supervision and rigorous assessment’ when the underpinning ideas remain undisturbed.

How assessment works

Assessment drives learning: everything you do that is linked to education or development is driven by the thought, ‘Am I going to be asked about this?’.

Mentors’ skills in assessment need to be shored up and refined, along with our ideas about what assessment is and how it works. Making assessment decisions can be a scary prospect. It’s no wonder mentors run for cover. They need to be supported, not labelled as having failed and replaced by a new breed, so that we can start the cycle all over again.

Professor Macleod Clark has also said it's time to consider the value of a mandatory preceptorship or internship year. A supported period of practice following initial registration makes sense. Remember your first post after qualifying? How reassuring was it to have an experienced practitioner you could turn to?

Preceptorship helps the newly qualified registrant and protects standards. It should not, however, be pitched in terms of ‘internship’, which is fraught with unwelcome implications, not least in respect to pay and conditions.

Hostility towards the term ‘mentorship’ only serves to side-step the main underlying challenges in practice learning and workplace cultures. And it runs the risk of further demoralising hard-pressed mentors by undermining the contributions they have made over the years.


 

 

 

Maggie Bennett is a lecturer at Queen’s University Belfast

 

 

 

Brian McGowan is a lecturer at Ulster University

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